Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: Parenting with Love and Logic

I have had Parenting with Love and Logic recommended to me many times, so I was pretty excited to see it on the shelf at the library. (Because you know I don't buy stuff if I can get it for free.) I got through it in under 24 hours -- it's not a long or difficult read.

At first, in the theory section, I was saying "yes, yes, yes!" No wonder people have been recommending this book to me -- it jives very well with what I'm already doing. The basic idea is that instead of being "helicopter" parents who solve children's problems for them, or "drill sergeant" parents who make sure children never have problems by micromanaging them, we should step back a bit and let our kids experience the consequences of their actions for themselves. If they don't remember their schoolbooks, they have to deal with being at school unprepared. If they're bossy with their friends, their friends might not want to play with them anymore. There is no need to interfere.

However, in practice, it isn't just about natural consequences. The authors tell you to come up with logical consequences and then give your kids a choice. For instance, "You can clean your room now, or while the rest of the family is at the park." It is a parent-enforced punishment, whatever you call it. But you always make sure that you give options that are both acceptable to you -- not, for instance, "Clean up your room now or I'll stand over you and make you do it." That's a punishment for the parent, too, and it's what the kids are going to choose. You also have to let the kids know it's a real choice -- you are not going to make them pick one or the other, and you won't get mad at them or berate them if they choose the wrong one. You just let them choose one and if they find they don't like it, they can make the other choice next time. No nagging or shouting.

There are a lot of things that would work for, I suppose. But in the practical section of the book, I disagreed with a lot of the ideas. I know they're just ideas, and you could use the theories quite differently. But it seemed that so many of the consequences included not feeding your kids. For instance, you might tell the kids that their chores have to be done before dinner, and then if they don't do their chores, you don't serve them any. But you sympathize and say, "Well, you'll be pretty hungry tonight, but we'll have a big breakfast in the morning!" I just ... don't care for the idea of starving your kids to get results. I know I can't make it through to breakfast with no dinner, and I'm an adult!

Some were great, though, I have to say. For instance, tooth brushing. A natural consequence would be letting the child not brush his teeth and having him get cavities and get drilled ... but that's a very drastic, painful, and expensive way to learn the lesson. (Worked for me, incidentally: after getting my first cavity I got religious about tooth-brushing. It didn't help, sadly. I still have awful teeth.) But the logical consequence suggested in the book was a good one: next time you're handing out sweet treats to the kids, give them only to the ones who have been good with their brushing. "Here's one for you, Jeremy, but Joey, I don't think I can give you one. You haven't been so good about brushing your teeth, and I'm afraid you'll get cavities if I let you have any sugar." It's reasonable, it helps avoid cavities, and eventually the child will probably try to prove that he can be trusted to brush his teeth so he can get a cookie.

So many of the tips, though, were more about making up consequences for things rather than what the book originally suggested, letting kids discover consequences on their own. I know sometimes you do have to make up consequences for the good of the family -- like telling a crabby child to either shape up or go to his room where he isn't bothering anyone. Or telling children, "You don't have to go to sleep now, but this is Mom and Dad's alone time, so you have to stay in your rooms from eight p.m. on." In other words, we're not trying to force our kids to do what's best for them, but we do make them do what will be acceptable to us. It seemed fair to me. However, whenever possible, I do favor standing back altogether and letting kids figure things out for themselves. And I think the authors would generally agree with that: they recommend, once you think the child is old enough to decide for themselves, letting them decide how clean they want their rooms to be (provided they fit some minimum of sanitation) and when a good bedtime is to keep them from being tired in the morning (provided they stay out of our hair past eight or nine p.m., and they get up on time however tired they are). You set the limits in which your child can make decisions, and then let them at it.

The (very brief) bit about toddlers was the part I really didn't like. The authors just abandon the whole love-and-logic idea with toddlers and say you should spank them. Just so long as they're under three, it won't do any of the negative things (specifically, causing resentment because children feel pushed around) that they claim punishments do. I just don't buy that (and child psychologists claim we should never spank kids under two anyway, for what that's worth). I don't see what's so different between a two-year-old and a three-year-old that the one will resent you for pushing them around and the other one won't. Meanwhile he says you should never physically move your child or physically force them to do things ... because then they'll feel pushed around. Even if they're under three. I just don't get his reasoning there. How is it causing resentment to pick up your wailing two-year-old and buckle him into his carseat, but not to spank him until he goes willingly into his carseat? Both are coercion of some kind, if you want to think of it that way, but the former is less painful.

In my experience, a lot of the love-and-logic stuff works fine with a two-year-old. They don't even really have to be verbal. Marko knows perfectly well that he can play nicely with the dog, or not play with the dog; sit quietly on my lap, or get down; stroke my hair gently, or not get to touch my hair. Of course he experiments constantly because he is a toddler. But it's sinking in and I don't have to say or do much about it.

Most issues I have with him, though, aren't really "consequence" type things. The authors of the book mention tantrums as a major toddler issue and suggest various consequences to teach a child to go to his room and come out when he's calm. I don't really see that this is necessary. A tantrum is just the result of a child losing his cool because his feelings are bigger than his self-control. You don't really have to do anything about them, though talking to or comforting a child may help. I just don't see that isolating the child helps particularly. (It depends on your child, of course. Mine goes ballistic when isolated.) The same goes for having a consequence for a child waking up his parents at night for nightmares. The authors say he has to learn that this is unacceptable ... but why? There were a few times I remember climbing into bed with my mom after a nightmare, and it was the most comforting thing ever. She would talk me through the nightmare and help me realize it wasn't real and that I didn't have to be scared. No consequence is needed ... the child has a need and is addressing it in a normal way. There are ways to help teach a child to sleep better and alleviate nightmares, but just motivating a child to want to sleep through the night isn't going to cut it.

So, although I liked the general premise of the book, it wasn't that useful for a child the age of mine. Certainly the tips in there will come in a lot handier when my kids are older. In general, I love the idea of letting children discover for themselves the consequences of what they do. This is why I let Marko climb on things that he could fall off of, walk in the kitchen although the floor is slippery, or go barefoot when there are pokey things around. It is amazing how fast he learns to avoid hazards, and he learns in a natural way that doesn't involve me hovering over him or smacking him. And yet he isn't left to his own devices in a dangerous world -- I'm there making sure that he's only given as much responsibility as he can reasonably handle, stopping him from doing anything that might actually injure him. Over time, I can ease up and let him try more things, so that by the time he turns eighteen, nothing needs to change because he is already confidently making his own decisions, aware of how they will affect him.

And that's the real goal: raising kids who don't need us to tell them what to do. It's important to keep that in mind. They won't have us forever, so sooner or later we're going to have to give them freedom -- preferably with training wheels first.

I'd definitely recommend this book as an addition to your parenting library, if you have one. Stick it alongside my other favorites: The Baby Book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, and Free-Range Kids.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Toddler tales


I keep coming up with little tidbits of hilarious things Marko says and does, as my Facebook friends all know. (Every time I see someone I haven't seen or spoken with in ages, they always tell me, "Oh, I've been following Marko's adventures on Facebook!" Apparently he has lots of fans.)

Like this one. John likes to pretend to fall asleep on Marko. Marko always pushes at him to wake him up, and John protests, "Hey, you're waking me up!" So now Marko pushes at him and says, in his deepest voice, "Heeeeey, you're waking me uuuuuup!" John answers "I don't sound like that!" so now Marko says that, too. He also imitates my voice, though I don't notice so much because he does it almost all the time. For instance, he'll hand me something and then say in a really perky voice, "Thank you, Marko!"

John quotes stuff a lot. So now Marko does too -- a lot of shows that he would never be allowed to watch. Some of his favorites: "Be careful there, Ton-ay. Don't be dir-tay!" (Fry and Laurie), "We're on a bridge, Charlie! Candy Mountain, Charlie!" (Charlie the Unicorn), and "Honey Badger don't care." They come out at the oddest moments, like when he cried for me in the middle of the night the other night. I came in, picked him up, and quietly started rocking him ... and he announced, "We're on a bridge, Charlie!"

He also quotes his books, of course. Right now he's doing Hop on Pop. Marko talks pretty much all the time. Most of it is quotes from books, but he also repeats everything that he's overheard or that I've said to him.

His new favorite thing to do is to climb up behind me on my computer chair and put blocks in my hair. They always fall out, but he just climbs down, gets the blocks, and puts them back in my hair. I put up with it for as long as I can take it, but sooner or later he gets rough and starts pulling my hair, so I stand up and go somewhere else. This always provokes a tantrum. I tell him, "It's my hair, it belongs to me," but he yells, "No it's my hair! No it belongs to me!"

Our current way of diffusing tantrums is to sit on the couch and read. I usually have to wait for him to cry for awhile, and then quietly suggest that he sit and read with me. He agrees, but the screaming continues. Every time he pauses for breath, I read a little bit in my very quietest voice. After awhile he quiets down because he wants to hear the story! Usually by the end of the book he's completely calm and wants to get back to playing. It's like a miracle. (Since this happens a couple of times a day, as a rule, I am so glad we have a coping mechanism.)

Marko does not snuggle. He climbs. A certain percentage of every day, he has to be on me. He climbs, squirms, clambers, tugs, pulls, elbows ... urrrrrrgh. This is not my favorite. I do go along with it as long as he isn't actually hurting me -- at least until I have HAD ENOUGH and have to walk away -- because it makes him happy and he seems to need the physical contact even though he can't be still enough to snuggle. But it's frustrating. John and I both love cuddling, and we ended up with a kid who won't cuddle. Every time I try to suggest that Marko sit on my lap, he hurls himself sideways to suspend himself upside-down by one arm. (But despite appearances, he does not actually want to get down. He will cry when told that I can't actually hold him like that.) If I sit next to him on the couch, first he leans on my belly with his elbows, and then he starts to lie across my lap, and then he crawls back and forth over me. If I sit on the floor -- which he loves -- he likes to stand on my shins and ankles. It's a constant balance, trying to give him a bit of what he needs (touch, without sitting still) and me what I need (NOT being hurt, plus some limits on how long I have to put up with it).

As a result, bedtime takes longer than it used to. Not that he isn't cooperating -- he's been great at bedtime lately. I have learned to keep reading together till we hear a yawn. Once he yawns, I finish the book and take him into the bedroom, and by that point he is almost always willing to sit quietly in my lap while I sing to him. He's usually out within ten minutes. No, the reason it takes a long time is that once he's still and snuggly and quiet, there's no way I can put him down. A certain amount of Marko snuggles are necessary for me to be a good mother. If I only ever interact with him when he's climbing all over me and fiddling with my hair, I lose patience. (This is why cosleeping always worked so well for us, I think. I definitely notice having more patience after a nap with him -- which I don't have when I nap without him.) (I miss naps.)

Because of this, I've decided not to tinker with his bedtime routine any more. I originally planned to try to teach him to fall asleep in his own bed before the baby came, so I could hold the baby while singing to Marko and getting him to sleep. But now I'm thinking that bedtime can be Marko's special time with Mama. We both really treasure that time. So the baby can sit in the bouncer, or be held by Daddy, or lie in the Moses basket, but that can be my time to hold Marko. There may be some nights, especially when John is away, that this is a hassle, and maybe even results in bedtime being later than I would like, but I think it's worth it. Marko's already going to be displaced enough; I don't want to cut out bedtime snuggles too.

Now that I've said that, though, I must say that once in awhile Marko is really uncooperative at bedtime and does the climbing and hanging thing in the hopes that I will give up and let him go back to playing. Usually that's my fault because I didn't wait till he was nice and tired. But I had to put some limits there or else he was going to start thinking bedtime is optional, which it isn't. So I would ask him, "Do you want to lie on your bed instead? You don't have to be in my arms, you can lie on your bed by yourself." Once he said yes, since then he says no. But if he keeps wiggling, I say, "You're too wiggly for Mama's lap. You have to be still and quiet on Mama's lap." So I lay him down in his bed. I tried lying down with him once, but that generally just means getting kicked in the stomach, so now I leave the room and shut the door. Invariably it's only a minute or so before Marko starts screaming, so I come back in and pick him up again. I tell him, "To be in my arms, you have to be still and quiet so I can sing to you." And he does. I haven't had to leave the room in at least two weeks, because when I remind him, he always settles down. (Of course, this is after months of constructing a bedtime routine that leaves him really sleepy at the end ... so all I need is for him to lie quietly in my arms for two minutes before he starts being too sleepy to protest anyway.)

Is that a punishment, a logical consequence, or what? I'm not sure, but it feels right to me. I am not trying to hurt him or upset him because he did the wrong thing. I'm just trying to show him that to get what he wants (rocking and singing) he has to do what I want (be still and quiet). He also has the option to stay in his bed and go to sleep without me ... though that's not what happens generally. (There actually have been two or three times when he has, usually when there's been something unusual going on and he's not as tired as usual. Out of desperation, we've left him in his bed after rocking him for an hour, only to find that he actually did fall asleep after a lot of talking to himself.)

In the realm of "what the heck is going on in my kid's brain?" here's something that happened yesterday. I was washing the kitchen floor when he came barrelling in, dashed across the kitchen, and went sliding on the wet floor. He landed flat on his back and cried just a tad. I picked him up and told him, "The floor is slippery in here, you can't run or you will fall." So he carefully walked out of the kitchen. Two minutes later he came barrelling back. I put up my arm and stopped him from running, reminding him again that the floor was wet and slippery and he would fall. He walked very carefully across the floor, turned around ... and tried to run out. Of course he slipped and fell again, and this time he cried a lot. I reminded him again that the floor was slippery and he would fall on it if he tried to run. Once he'd calmed down, he spent some time experimenting. He would run right up to the kitchen and then switch to a careful walk. Then a less careful walk. He'd slip with his feet a bit to see how slippery it was. But he didn't fall again.

I think he had to test the theory a few times just to see if it was true what I had said, "If you run, you will fall." How much running? How badly will the falling hurt? The feeling of slipping is pretty thrilling, is it worth it? What if I walk quickly? What if I tiptoe? I mostly just let him figure it out. It's so neat to watch him learn.

Less of a parenting "win" is this one: He's not allowed to stand up or walk on the bed, because he could fall and hurt himself pretty badly. So I would tell him, "No standing on the bed." But he clearly didn't get it, probably because it's a negative statement and he's not good with those. So I changed to "You must sit on the bed." That worked better. When I said that, he would sit down. I'd give him a big smile. Then he would start crawling around and glance at me. I'd smile at that, too. Then he'd stand up and give me a big smile -- and I'd get him down because he is not allowed to stand. He would be completely shocked, every time, and cry. This went on for weeks, and I couldn't figure it out.

Have you? It seems so obvious now that I think of it. I never told him crawling was okay. So when I said sitting, he would sit. But then he would "break the rule" and start crawling, and I was okay with that. So clearly I didn't mean what I'd said, so he could stand, too. Now I tell him, "Sitting, crawling, or lying down on the bed only. If you stand, you have to get down." And that pretty much does it. He does still test this limit often, but finally he seems to get it and we're making some progress.

This is such a fascinating age. Hard to believe that he'll be two in a month and a half!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is this nesting?



I didn't really "nest" last pregnancy. I made a couple of extra meatloaves, chucked them in the freezer, and called it good. I was too exhausted from work to do much else.

This time, I don't really see why I'm not more tired. Marko doesn't sleep through the night more than half the time, and when he does, I still don't. It's common for me to wake up every hour or two, and then get pulled out of bed at 5 a.m. to rock him in the (vain) hope that he will go to sleep again. I rarely get eight hours, and it's never in one go. Ever.

And yet, once I'm well up and have had some breakfast, I start feeling this crazy zing. Half energy, half anxiety. I have a long before-baby to-do list, but I don't often get to cross things off on it. (Though sometimes I spend a lot of time staring at the list, trying to think what I can add and then do so I can cross something off.) Most of the items are either shopping (which I can't do on the average weekday, not having a car) or it's way too soon to do them (like making laborade). I know I've got 11 more weeks, but it feels like time is just ticking away on me -- seriously, this pregnancy has flown by -- and I'm going to turn around and find I'm in labor and haven't done a thing on my list.

Meanwhile, I have the same anxious feeling about my garden. I know I'm going to be tired and uncomfortable as the due date gets close. But the due date is almost exactly the last-frost date. There's so much I am going to want to plant right then! I want to work ahead on the garden and get it all done now ... but it's February. So I can't.

What do I do with all this nervous energy? Laundry? Ha, no. I do random things that my brain fixates on and declares, "This is a good idea." Usually it isn't particularly.

For instance: last October we had a really big snowstorm and our whole yard was covered in fallen branches. After a month or two a friend came with his chainsaw and got the big stuff, but the smaller stuff was still everywhere. But no one had the inclination to do anything about it until suddenly a week or so ago I looked at that back yard and said, "It looks so awful! How is the grass ever going to grow through this? What about the tulips? What about having a place to play?" So I decided that every day I'd pick up a little bit of it, being careful not to do too much on any one day, so that I wouldn't strain my back.

About two hours after I'd made this decision, I'd cleaned up the whole yard and made three massive brush piles. On subsequent days, I raked up all the loose twigs and leaves in the yard, dragged the leaf piles into the front yard, piled them on my garden beds, made brick edgings for the beds, etc. I just ... can't ... help myself.

With the yard all clean, my eyes lighted on our shed. Our hideous shed. I've wanted to paint it for a long time. So I poked around in the cellar to find some leftover exterior paint. My only choices were the original color (turns out that's "celery green") and white. So I chose white. (What I really wanted was to paint it barn red, with white trim. Unfortunately that paint was not to be found, and since painting the shed is, like, 20th on our home improvement priority list, I couldn't exactly justify buying the paint.\


It actually doesn't look so horrible in this picture. But everything looks worse now that it's winter.

I wasn't 100% sure how the paint would look, so I decided to just do the trim, which was already white so it wouldn't even show. Ha. It showed. It looked terrible, nasty rusty celery green with BRIGHT white trim. So what can you do? I painted the rest of it, too. Now the whole shed seems to glow. Luckily I already have a plan to grow morning glories all over it ... hopefully that helps.

The worst part was wondering how I was going to explain to my husband that I kind of sort of accidentally painted the shed. I couldn't help it, your honor! I was pregnant at the time, which means it sounded like a really good idea that totally couldn't wait till the next day to get my husband's opinion on! However, I'm pretty sure he's seen it and hasn't noticed. (If you're reading this: sorry it looks kinda awful. I could paint it again!)

The other place my nesting instincts have kicked in is in the kitchen. I just have to bake, pretty much every day. Sourdough boule! Baguettes! Pancakes! Blintzes! My cravings tag-team with my nervous energy and force me to reach great heights in the kitchen. For instance, I wanted a Reuben. Which meant making sourdough bread (this recipe -- takes a night and a day, be warned), sending my husband to buy roast beef and mustard, and digging up the can of sauerkraut that's been sitting in the cupboard for six months and was my inspiration for the whole thing.


A different day, I wanted lasagna. I had pretty much none of the ingredients required for lasagna. But why should that stop me? I made homemade ricotta (actually quite easy) and homemade egg noodles (actually really hard) and made something like sausage from ground venison. There was nothing in there that wasn't made from scratch, unless you count tomato sauce because I didn't smoosh the actual tomatoes for it. Or, well, I guess you can't count the mozzarella either because I don't know how to make that. Still, I was pretty darn proud of my lasagna -- and it was delicious.

Once I had made the sourdough bread for the first time, I just couldn't be satisfied with Reuben sandwiches. What I wanted was something I used to have as a kid: when we would go visit my grandparents, my grandma would always serve homemade sourdough bread. Everyone would have it with apricot jam, except my grandpa. He would have it with sour cream and marmalade. So of course I picked up on that and ate it that way too. (I would do anything to be like Grampy, up to and including turning down apricot jam.) So now when I eat sourdough bread, I start craving marmalade.

Again, no marmalade around the house. Starting to feel guilty importuning my husband to stop on the way home and spend our precious grocery budget on random things I suddenly crave. But we did have oranges! So I made homemade, lacto-fermented marmalade. (This recipe produces something that's more like orange slices swimming in liquid, which doesn't go well on toast. So I ran it through the food processor, and now it's more marmalade-y.) We did have sour cream, but why do anything the easy way? I strained my homemade yogurt and used that, for a 100% homemade, 100% fermented result.

Delicious.

I admit this is not the best use of my time. I may look like the mom who's "doing it all," but on my baking or yard work days, the house starts to look pretty darn bedraggled. Marko enjoys my projects, mostly (keeping him from touching the wet paint was kind of a chore), so I don't feel I'm neglecting him, but it is rather sad to come out of the kitchen with my delicious bread and marmalade and see books and toys scattered everywhere. Plus the kitchen itself looks like a bomb went off. Sooooo perhaps I could find a way to apply this energy to cleaning the house?

Here's hoping. Meanwhile, I only have 11 weeks to buy a carseat and order more cloth diapers and make some food for the freezer and set up the crib and figure out what Marko's going to sleep on and order the birth kit and collect homebirth supplies and and and and .....! Wish me luck.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ruth Stout and no-till gardening

This past week, in a fit of frustrated gardening impulse, I read The No-Work Gardening Book by Ruth Stout. It lays out her no-till gardening method. Very simply, instead of plowing her garden every year (what? you're supposed to plow every year?) she started just throwing down a deep mulch of spoiled hay. Not only did she have a lot less work to do all of a sudden -- no plowing and hardly any weeding or watering -- her yields all stayed the same or got better.

I probably would have gotten more out of the book if I knew more about traditional gardening. I mean, I always thought you dug a bed once, and then you didn't have to dig it anymore! Only I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have worked very well, because every time I've dug a bed in our heavy clay soil, it's looked great only until the first rain. Then it flattens out like a pancake, bakes in the hot sun, and looks like a brick pavement within a week or two. The plus side is that very few weeds ever get through that. The minus side is that nothing else does, either, and that the soil erodes a lot. Since we only get rain on two settings -- "none" and "cats and dogs" -- the soil parches except when it's turning into soup. That always made my tomato plants topple over and the soil compact further with every rain.

Really, tilling once a year isn't enough. You kind of need continuous tilling. Of course you can't do that while you've got plants growing. So the secret is to enlist the earthworms to help you out. Putting a ton of organic matter -- mulch -- on your garden beds tempts them to come in droves and keep digging. They break down the organic matter and draw it into the soil. This builds a wonderful rich, loose soil. And since the mulch protects the soil from drying out and from heavy rain, you don't have the constant cycle of soup-bricks-soup again that compacts it.

The usual purpose of mulch is to keep weeds down, and a nice deep layer of organic matter will do the trick. Ruth Stout recommends a layer eight inches deep. (Of course, throughout the growing season it will flatten out quite a bit.) Plastic is often used for the same job, but plastic has many flaws. It's more expensive than an organic mulch (since most mulches you could choose are available for free or nearly free), it doesn't allow rain through (which is why many people who use it end up needing drip irrigation as well), and it doesn't enrich the soil at all.

Of all the possible options, though, it seems that bare soil is the worst. It doesn't protect the soil at all, so it's at the mercy of rain, sun, and erosion. And because weeds can easily take hold there, you've got to spend all summer weeding or hoeing. Remember, nature abhors a vacuum. You will never, ever find a bare patch of ground in nature. Either it is taken over by weeds, or it's covered with a blanket of fallen leaves or pine needles.

For adding organic matter to the soil, you could use compost. It does require keeping a compost pile going and digging it into your garden every year. But it will do the trick. Stout's question, though, is why would you go to all that effort when you could just put the organic matter on the soil and let it compost on the spot? (I'm not giving up my compost pile, by the way. But that's mainly so I still have a place to put my kitchen scraps.)

What makes a good mulch? This was my problem last year. I had no idea what to use, and nothing readily available. Stout used mostly spoiled hay, which isn't something readily available to me.

The obvious answer for most of us in the suburbs is leaves. The problem with that is that you have to plan ahead a bit. I didn't get nearly as many as I could have, because I was feeling all first-trimesterish and yucky during leaf season. All I have is our yard's leaves. But anyone who wants to spend half an hour getting free mulch can go along the edge of the street at the right time of year and shovel up bags of them. (I recommend a snow shovel and a big trash can for the job.) All they're doing is blocking the storm drains -- no one wants them. In many neighborhoods, a truck will come eventually and pick them up. In ours, they eventually all rotted or blew away.

My own leaves, though, are still in my yard where I left them. All the ones in the front yard got raked onto the beds first thing. No more trouble than raking them into a trash can. And the ones in the back yard just kind of lay there in heaps and decayed. I've been raking them up lately and throwing them onto the beds.

The best thing about leaves is that they are very rich in nutrients. Trees have deep roots and can draw minerals from much deeper in the soil than, say, grass can. The downside of leaves is their tendency to blow away. So I usually wet them down after I get them in place, if they're dry. If they're damp and half-rotted when you rake them up, they stay put much better.

Cut grass is another good mulch that's readily available, though you never do seem to have enough of it. Shredded newspaper is fine, if not that nutritious or attractive. (I do use it as a bottom layer when I'm killing grass.) Bark mulch is kind of expensive, so if you were going to buy something, I'd pick straw instead. Really, though, as long as it's organic, and you can get a lot of it, it should be fine. The wreckage of last year's garden can be included, too, if it's not diseased.

All you do is heap your mulch on your bed, as deep as you can manage -- 8 inches is good, but less is still better than nothing. Do it in the fall for best results, or in the spring if you didn't do it in the fall. Stout says that she was told to put down some cottonseed meal along with it (manure would be just as good) to provide nitrogen, to help the soil microorganisms break the mulch down, but that she hadn't noticed a difference between when she used it and when she didn't. If I can get some chicken manure (I think I have a source for it!), I'll put a little on, but if not, I won't worry too much.

When it's time to plant, just pull the mulch aside to expose the bare (loose, rich) soil. If you're direct-seeding, plant your seeds as you're accustomed to, and leave the mulch off until the seedlings are tall enough not to be lost in it. (I have heard the recommendation to lay some cardboard or wood over your seed row until the seedlings appear, to help keep the soil moist. I play to try that. But, of course, you have to check carefully every day and take it off when you see the first sprout, so they don't smother.) If you're setting in transplants, just dig your hole, pop in the seedling, and pull the mulch back around it.

Stout also gives some suggestions I found a little crazy. For instance, she suggests laying your potatoes right on the ground instead of digging them in, and putting the mulch over the top of them. She says it worked for her, but another author I read said that all her seed potatoes ended up getting eaten by mice. So I don't think I feel up to trying that just yet.

In her own garden, Stout had been tilling for years when she stopped, so she already had well-cultivated beds. She claims you can build a bed like that from the beginning -- which I do believe you can -- but it will take some time. A bit of digging at the outset shouldn't do you any harm, and should get you growing things sooner.

In fact, there's nothing in the book that dogmatically says "thou shalt not till." Instead, Stout just says you shouldn't have to till if you use a nice, thick mulch. If you found some compacted soil or another issue, you could pull the mulch back, dig a bit, and replace it without messing up her system. (Roto-tilling, however, would probably be a bad idea: I hear it chops up the earthworms, which would set you right back to square one.)

This year, I intend to really give this whole mulch thing a shot. It's going to mean replacing a lot of mulch, because in my experience a lot of it does blow away or wash away. But I have several leaf piles going, plus some straw I found in my shed, so we'll see if I can keep a mulch on all summer long. I'll be reporting as I go -- particularly looking for solutions to last year's problems: compacted soil and erosion.

Do you dig your garden up afresh every year? Do you mulch it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The terrible twos, or whatever

I keep hearing things about the so-called "terrible twos." Some people say they don't exist. Some people say that extended breastfeeding will turn them into the terrific twos. Some people say they really start at eighteen months. Some people say it's really the threes that are terrible.

Me, I have no idea. For us, the stages seem much shorter. We have a rough week, and then a great week. We have a few weeks of some new, puzzling behavior that has me pulling out my hair -- and then I figure out out how to respond to it, and it's suddenly no big deal.

The two big things that are new in this almost-two stage are really big emotions and a lot of what you could call contrariness. The emotions are what cause those massive tantrums. They're pretty awful, I admit. But I've learned not to take them personally and to remain calm, and in response, he's never again thrown a fit like that epic one. I've also realized they always happen when he's tired, so I've prevented a lot of trouble by being really, really obsessive about bedtimes.

As for the contrariness, I actually find it more funny than anything. I could suggest he eat an ice cream sundae and then go fly an airplane, and he'd still say no. It's a big revelation to him that he can say no, so he tries it all the time to see how much of his life he can control.

I was getting gray hair over the potty last week. I would know he needed to go - we've had a very good rhythm going on lately - and I'd suggest the potty. Instead of running over happily, he'd say no. I'd offer to read a book, remind him that he could get a treat if he goes - no dice. Sometimes I dragged him over and forced him to sit down. That backfired big time. He'd scream, cry, not go - and then the instant I let him off, he'd go on the floor. It was a full-on potty battle, and I was in despair because he'd been doing almost perfectly just the week before!

So I tried something else. "Do you want to sit on the potty?" "NO!" "Okay, maybe later." "Yes!" And he'd run over and go! He didn't mind sitting on the potty. He just wanted to be able to say no.

We've had similar battles with clothes. He now knows how to take certain shirts off. So wrestling him into clothes in the morning is kind of pointless. He's spent a lot of time naked lately, I admit. I hear many voices in my head telling me I'm a lousy parent, that I should assert my authority, and so on, but on the other hand, what does it matter? When we're leaving the house, he always cooperates because he loves going places. Before bed, we mostly just have to wrestle him into his pajamas and remind him that a story comes next. He stops complaining once we're done dressing him. (I say we because it's kind of a two-person job. Ever try to force an angry cat into a tight sweater? Pretty much like that.)

There are a million other ways he's been asserting his independence, as it were. Throwing books in the sink, knocking over piles of books, pouring water on the floor. And if I say no, he yells "Yes!" as many times as it takes.

Kinda scary, no?

It's kind of a turning point for me. Do I punish, threaten, or intimidate him into submission? I admit I've tried. But it never goes well. There is nothing more stubborn than a toddler. Even if I "win," he will be angry at me and take it out on me some other way. But mostly the only way to win is with overwhelming force - i.e. removing him from the scene altogether.

So my usual tactic is to skip the arguing, yelling, and punishing. After all, the only way to win is to refuse to fight. He wants to fight. So I decide whether to just let him do whatever it is and clean up later, or physically stop him. This usually means either taking the offending object away or picking him up and moving him. Either way, he gets hopping mad. But he usually gets over it fast, and I avoid getting mad.

I know this is supposed to be the golden opportunity to show who's boss. But I think he already knows that. After all, I decide when and what he can eat, where he may (and must) go, when bedtime is, and whether or not to read him dozens of books every day. The question is not, "Am I the boss?" but "How much freedom do I let him have?" My rule of thumb is that if it affects only himself, or if it's an arbitrary manners thing (like please) I usually don't sweat it. Bedtime isn't negotiable, but because I'm careful to watch for signs of tiredness and to wind him down with a story, it's rarely a point of contention. And if it affects someone else, then he doesn't get to choose. An annoying habit he has recently is grabbing my hands to try to make me do various things. I hate that, so I keep my hands away and prompt him to ask for what he wants. If he keeps trying to grab, I just walk away, saying, "You have the right to your body, but you don't have the right to mine."  He hates that, but he's been learning that you have to treat people better if you want them to stick around. It's not exactly a punishment - I'll come back a minute later if he asks - just a natural consequence.

Sure, I could spend a lot of effort trying to prove to him that he has to obey me. It would be a huge battle. I'd label him a "strong willed child," because I suppose he is one. Then, if Dr. Dobson is to be believed, I'm just going to have to go through the whole thing again when he's a teenager. That's a lot of fighting that doesn't really have to happen.

Everything else I do is about using an ounce of prevention instead of a pound of cure. I obsess over sleep. I offer snacks often, because he's kind of oblivious to his own hunger signals. I pay into his "love bank" often with lots of reading time (which is the only time but bedtime that he'll snuggle) and into his "fun bank" with games like "get me a rag and we'll clean up this mess together" or "wash the dishes." (Yes, I'm lame like that, but he so loves being helpful that I take full advantage while I can.) The days I don't do these things are the days when he gets into mischief. He loves attention and he'll take yelling if he can't get the other kind.

Meanwhile, he get cuter every day. He plays independently a lot, usually while singing and talking to himself. He's communicating better all the time. I kinda like this stage. I don't find it terrible. We have our days, but we always have. And when those days are over, we've both learned a lot about getting along with each other.

Do you believe in the terrible twos?

Trying to build our village


Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents


This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.


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When I moved to this town, I didn't know anyone who lived here all that well. On the other hand, I knew several people a little bit, and quite a few people by sight, because John and I both went to school here and the town is chock-full of alumni. It was one of the things that drew us back here: we knew we were moving to a town with a large population of young Catholics, many of whom had young children too.

And yet, this "huge community of Catholic moms" I kept hearing about failed to materialize. Everyone I knew who didn't live here was always exclaiming about the community here. But all I was experiencing was a huge crowd of stressed-out moms in the vestibule on Sundays. We exchanged understanding looks and smiles, and the occasional whisper, but then Mass would let out and we'd all go home. There was nothing at the parish where all of us moms could get together: no donut Sundays, no play group, no midmorning mom's Bible study ... nothing. There are many "women's" activities, but there are no events in the parish where we could come along with our kids.

There are several reasons for this, but the saddest one is the new child abuse prevention regulations. No events can happen with both adults and children present unless every single adult gets vetted. I know why it's necessary, but it breaks my heart that it would ever have to be necessary.

Anyway, I knew I needed to get out, that Marko needed to get out, and I couldn't keep being one of the only moms I knew. I ended up posting to a Facebook group of moms about my woes, knowing that many of the moms on the group lived relatively near. One brave woman rose to the bait and came over to my house to plan a play group. She knew a lot of the women in the parish, unlike me, so she was able to invite everyone. We met in the park -- right near my house, luckily, since I don't usually have the car -- and set the kids loose to play.

Honestly, it was more overwhelming than fun, at first. So many new people. People with whom I ought to get along -- they were all moms, nearly all Catholic, and all lived within a few miles of me -- but I didn't know where to begin. Most of my mom friends are online friends, who are way into natural parenting ... these moms fell everywhere on the spectrum. My one really close mom friend agrees with me about almost everything, so I had no idea what would happen if I ran into someone who didn't.

At first the conversations were awkward. We talked about how hard it is to get toddlers to behave in church (very!) and how we get along with our in-laws. We talked about what our husbands did, and how we manage the challenge of getting by without them when they're away. I think, by instinct, that everyone gravitated toward topics they knew everyone could relate to ... but that really limited the topics available.

After a month or two, though, people opened up, and I think we all found that the other women were more respectful of our points of view than we would have thought. When something came up that was controversial -- one would let drop "well, we sleep-trained him at six months" or "I know a lot of people think it's weird, but we're still nursing" -- people mostly just nodded. They could have jumped in to criticize, but I think we all realized it wasn't the place. None of us knew each other well enough to say much about each other's parenting. We stuck to our own stories. And, you know, you can teach people a lot just by your stories. I'm sure my mentioning that I co-slept for awhile but had no trouble transitioning my son to his own bed, or another mom telling about her home birth that went beautifully, sank in a lot more than a lecture would have. As moms, the thing we really want the most is to know that someone's done what we're thinking of doing, and that it went okay.

The real magic, though, was what happened when a few of us would suddenly realized we shared something else in common. I stayed way longer than I meant to one day when the topic of homebirth came up. One woman had had one, and was raving about her midwife. I asked her so many questions. Another time a mother much older than me, who was from Germany, started talking about ecological breastfeeding one day -- not only encouraging me in what I was doing, but making me feel a lot better about not having gotten pregnant yet. I even made one "real" friend, whom I started getting together with on my own.

Community is hard to cultivate. It took lots of phone calls and emails nagging people not to forget our playgroup. And the playgroup did die off when the weather turned bad, though I sometimes see those moms at church or the library and can say hello. But I really think we were never meant to parent by ourselves. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were part of a community of mothers: extended family, friends, and neighbors were always around. If you were having a bad day, you could drop the kids at your mother's, or vent to your sister, or borrow an egg from your neighbor -- all of whom had had kids, were at home during the day, and lived nearby.

Nowadays we don't have that, so we have to create it. It's hard. I'm not as outgoing as I wish I were. I can chat with anyone, but I don't make real friends easily. Even when I have, I always wonder if they actually like hanging out with me or are just putting up with me. Trying to create a village has meant swallowing that fear and calling people up to hang out anyway.

My closest mom friend has set me a very good example. One day, out of the blue, she emailed me and said, "I was thinking about how women used to have this big community to rely on, and it occurred to me that if I want that today, I need to create it. So, if it's all right with you, I'd like to come over and help you with your housework while our kids play together."

Is it all right with me? Is it all right with me?! Having someone to talk to while I get some help on that mammoth mound of dishes?! She did not have to ask me twice.

So now we try to make a habit of that, getting together whenever we can (though we don't live that close) and doing chores together, or just talking. When one of us is stressed out by unemployment or marriage problems or just one too many sleepless nights in a row, it really helps to talk about it.

I don't see interacting with other parents as mainly about instructing, explaining, correcting. Usually, I try not to. Maybe I'm too non-confrontational, but my answer to any controversial question is usually "pass the bean dip." I am happy to explain to anyone what my reasons were for my choices, but I don't tell anyone else what choices to make. Maybe their choices are dead wrong. But if they are, what are the odds I'm going to convince them of that in a five-minute or even hour-long conversation? I usually keep my debating to the internet, where you can pass someone some links and bow out. In any event, most parenting decisions aren't right or wrong. In any individual circumstance, the best thing for someone else could be something you yourself wouldn't even consider.

I see interacting with other parents as being primarily about support. When moms and dads are supported and happy, they are better parents for it. When a mom hears that your baby didn't sleep through the night at that age either, and he's doing fine now, it comforts her to stick out another night of nighttime parenting (even when it feels like "enhanced interrogation"). When a mom hears your beautiful homebirth story, a seed is planted that might give her the idea of doing that herself someday. When a mom hears how you finally taught your toddler to come when he is called, gently and without punishment, she realizes that she doesn't have to spank if she doesn't want to.

Better than that is when you're actually there to help. If you show up with a meal after she's had a baby, that means one more day she can focus on mastering breastfeeding instead of worrying about cooking. If you take her toddler to the park with yours for the afternoon so she can nap, maybe she'll feel her calm and patience returning so she can be the mom she wants to be when he comes home. If you offer to wash her dishes, she'll be able to snuggle on the couch with her kids and read them a book. That way you are actually empowering her to be the mom she wants to be instead of trying to convince her to be the mom you think she should be. I think that should be the heart of every interaction we have with another parent -- trying to nourish their hearts so they can turn and pass that love on to their children.

Sappy? Maybe. All I know is, I'm looking forward to my playgroup starting up again in the spring.

*Note: I only talked about moms here, because everyone at the playgroup and all of my close friends who are parents happen to be female. I imagine, though, that everything I said would go just as well when talking to dads!


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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!


Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)




  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.

  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.

  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.

  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!

  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.

  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.

  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.

  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.

  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.

  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.

  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.

  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.

  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.

  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.

  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.

  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.

  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.

  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.

  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.

  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.

  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.

  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.

  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.

  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.

  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.

  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.

  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"

  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.

  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.

  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.

  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.

  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.

  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.

  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!

  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.

  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.

  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.

  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.

  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.

  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.

  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.

  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.

  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.

  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).

  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.

  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shooting laptops doesn't equal good parenting

You've all seen the video, right? The dad whose daughter wrote a rude and untrue diatribe about him on Facebook, and in response he shot nine holes in her laptop? I keep seeing it reposted everywhere, with a lot of comments saying, "What a hero. Finally a dad standing up to his entitled teenager. We have so many bratty kids running around, and a bit more 'mean' parenting would do them good."

Yeah, I bet you could predict I would disagree with that, right?

For one thing, I think the whole "permissive parent" thing is something of a myth. I've never seen these permissive parents. Most parents aren't over-strict, but they do punish, and sometimes quite dramatically.

At the library, where we like to hang out, I see a lot of kids misbehaving. And I don't see a lot of parents who walk up to their kids, kneel down to their level, and say, "We don't bang on that table. Come over here and play with this other toy instead." I see parents who are playing with their iphones while their children misbehave. They stay right where they are and say in a bored, distracted tone, "Stop banging the table, Jeffrey. C'mon, stop banging the table." The kid keeps banging until the parent snaps, throws down the phone, gets up, grabs the kid, smacks him, and yells, "I told you to stop banging the table! Now you don't get dessert tonight!"

And (it seems to me) all the parents round about all nod sagely and think to themselves, "There you go. Put the smackdown on that kid. That's good parenting, right there, because you punished him."

It's not that consequences are bad. But simply the fact that you sometimes punish your kids doesn't make you a good parent. That's not by any means the defining factor.

What is? Gee, a lot of things. Do you actually bother to teach your kids right from wrong? Do you talk to them? Do you know what is important to them? Do you have consistent boundaries instead of just smacking them when you happen to feel annoyed? Do you give them a lot of loving attention when they're not misbehaving? (I'm thinking of Bill Cosby's line: "Parents do not care about justice, parents care about QUIET!")

I mean, in a country where we have lots of absent parents, a lot of latchkey kids, a lot of kids who sit in front of a screen all day, a lot of kids whose parents neither know nor care where they are when they're not home, kids who can't rely on a family dinner every night or a breakfast in the morning, kids who are abused, kids who are ignored .... why is it that everyone's latched onto this one thing, "lax parenting," that is supposed to cause all the problems we see in teenagers today? Especially when 85% of children are spanked at least sometimes. Clearly that has not been enough to guarantee good behavior in all of them.

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently suggesting that the problem with teenagers is that they are not given opportunities to practice responsibility and reasonable risk-taking at an early enough age -- early enough being before their brains are all fuddled with puberty. That kind of clashes with popular parenting culture. I'm always hearing that you're a negligent parent if you let your toddler climb on something when they might fall, because they might hurt themselves. But you're a lax parent unless you then spank them for trying to climb ... in order to hurt them, so that they learn. It is possible that the parent who lets a child climb and allows him to find out what it's like to fall (from a small height, obviously), will have less trouble with that child in adolescence. Who knows? I don't. (Though I really hope so, seeing as my kid fell off a chair and bonked his head today. It wasn't far, but I still feel bad about it.)

I admit I'm not an expert on teenagers. My dad used to say with pride that he never had any teenagers, he had young adults. I was loads of trouble when I was younger, but after going through all I did in boarding school, rebelling against my parents just seemed silly. Why would I rebel, when I had already tried all the independence I wanted, and when they weren't playing mind games with me or trying to break my will? So I can't exactly credit the tons of responsibility and trust my parents reposed in me with my lack of rebellion, though I'm sure it didn't hurt. My brother, though, never was a rebellious teenager either. Again, why would he rebel? He had tons of responsibility (through an afterschool job) and the trust of our parents. The teen years were a very stable time for both of us. I do know for sure, though, that they didn't keep track of what we said to our friends, in person or online, and wouldn't have punished us for saying what we thought. On the other hand, I would never have said anything that might come back around to hurt my mom's feelings, because ... well, duh. I liked and respected her and didn't want her feelings to be hurt.

[A tangent here: as a preteen, I was the world's most temperamental child. I am not exaggerating; I have never since seen an eleven-year-old act the way I did. I've seen Marko do it, though. Think toddler-force tantrums in a girl who really ought to know better. I was always punished for acting like that. My parents tried everything they could think of to get me to stop. And one day, probably without thinking much about it, my dad commented to me after one of my meltdowns, "You know, your mom's in her room crying because of how you just treated her." It was like a lightbulb that went off over my head. My mother had feelings too! I was hurting her! But I loved her and didn't want to hurt her! That was the one thing that made the difference to me and gave me the strength to really buckle down and control my temper. Relationship will always motivate me when consequences won't, and I think many kids are the same as I was.]

But one thing that does get me is this: the dad, in his later explanation, says that part of why he made the video was because so many of his acquaintances had seen his daughter's note, and he didn't want them to think .... that it was true and he was a tyrant? No, he didn't want them to think that he would let his daughter get away with saying that. So it wasn't just about setting appropriate limits for the child, after all. It was about looking like a good, that is a strict, parent.

I hear (I can't read the full text of his update, because of a browser issue) that the dad did admit that it wasn't the best way of dealing with the situation, that he would consider that his "worst eight minutes as a parent," and that he wouldn't do it again. So I'm not casting judgment on the dad. Probably he is a much better parent than suggested by the video.

He also says that his daughter learned her lesson. But about that I'm not too sure. Did she learn the lesson, "Don't throw a fit on the internet for everyone to see, because that is immature and hurts others"? Or did she learn the lesson, "Don't do that until you're eighteen, because it's okay when grown-ups do it"? Or worse, "Don't get caught next time."

I just think that if adults want good behavior from their kids, the number-one thing they should always do is model the behavior they would like to see. Other parenting tips and tricks will all fail if you don't start there. Kids, and especially teenagers, can detect hypocrisy in a heartbeat. So while the dad's internet rant may have been a powerful consequence, it was a terrible example.

What would I have done? Well, there are two separate offenses this girl did. First, she complained about her parents online, and second, some of what she said wasn't true. The first one I don't think is a crime. I guess it's the libertarian in me ... if my kid wants to whine about me, let them be my guest. They have a right to their thoughts, and they may soon discover that no one is really impressed with their angst anyway. The lying, though, is wrong and I would address that. I'd probably make her write a correction explaining everything in her original note that was a lie. That would certainly show her how bad lying makes you look, as well as let everyone who saw the original note know the truth of the matter. There might be another consequence as well, like extra chores for awhile or loss of internet privileges, but I'm not sure. It would kind of depend on what she said to me when I talked to her about it -- because obviously, that would be the first step.

We all have our not proud moments as parents. The time a kid is screaming at us and we just start screaming back. The time we give some enormous unreasonable consequence for a small infraction because we just can't take it anymore. The time we punish a kid and only later realize that he didn't even understand what he did wrong. But those aren't our proud moments. They shouldn't be praised or taken as an example. The comments I keep seeing that say, "Way to go, showing those entitled teens of nowadays who's boss," or, "Well, better to be too mean to a kid than too nice" (who made that rule up?!) just make me sad. It's just one more way of making parenting into a battle, and I think we could do better.

Here are a few other good responses to the video:

Connected Mom
Modern Alternative Mama
The Path Less Taken
Demand Euphoria
Freeplaylife

Have you seen the video? What did you think?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bitter? Maybe a little

When John and I were in college, we helped found a debate society. I say "we" because I was involved in every aspect of its founding, except for the actual founding meeting where all the officers were elected. That, I was told I wasn't invited to because it was guys only. When John came back, he told me they'd gone and founded the society and voted themselves as officers. They graciously let me take minutes at the first debates, though, because they hadn't elected a secretary yet.

Do you see why I ended up such a feminist?

Anyway, the society continues, it seems to have outgrown its original chauvinism, and John remains very involved. I don't go often because the debates are in the evening and interfere with bedtime, and because when I've brought Marko we end up spending the whole time in the stairwell or outside, and because I would hate to make John stay home with Marko when he really lives and breathes debating, whereas with me it's only a casual hobby.

Sometimes I do go to their parties, though. Those are perfect. Despite the fancy dress, no one seems to care that there's a toddler there, and I can keep an eye on him while discussing politics or theology. Everybody wins! And the whole thing seems like proof that my life isn't over because I had a kid, that moms can use their brains too, that I am still an equal of anyone. I'm not dumb, I'm relatively well-spoken, so the informal sort of debating that happens at these things always is a self-esteem boost. I walk away feeling like I have expressed myself well, plus I have new things to think about throughout the next week or so (during which I most likely will not leave the house).

Tonight they had their induction ceremony for new members, with reception following. Marko had napped earlier, unusually, so I figured he wouldn't mind staying up an extra hour while we all went to this. I figured about 20 minutes for the induction, 40 minutes or an hour of socializing, and then we'd go home.

Well, the thing was much more ornate than in my college days. The first 45 minutes was just setup, and then the induction itself took an hour. Marko was fabulously well behaved, if you count snuggling in my lap and not wanting to move as well-behaved. It was great, but on the other hand, the whole time I was thinking, "He's tired. We shouldn't have come. I should have gotten him to bed." But around when I made the decision to get ready to go, the ceremony started and we were stuck. The whole thing was so formal you couldn't really move around at all. At the same time, Marko perked up and started babbling quietly to himself. Really quietly. But we were (with extreme politeness) asked to leave.

At that point I was happy to leave, because I was not particularly interested in the pomp and circumstance they were putting on, so I didn't make a fuss, I just picked up Marko (ow ow ow my back doesn't like carrying 30 pounds anymore!) and found an empty stairwell where we sat out the rest of the show. I would have just gone home, but unfortunately my coat and diaper bag were on the other side of the stage ... if quiet babbling was disruptive, I was pretty sure they wouldn't want me tramping through dragging a toddler and all my stuff. Of course after half an hour in a dim stairwell, Marko passed out on my chest. It was past when I'd planned to leave, and I hadn't eaten one hors d'oeuvre or had one intellectual conversation.

When the ceremony got out, I sent John for my stuff and beat a hasty retreat. Marko slept the whole way home, and did transfer into his bed okay after a few tries. But the whole evening was awfully disappointing.

I just don't know how to feel about the whole thing. On the one hand, we could have just gotten a babysitter. We've already done it once: put Marko to bed, then had someone come in for $7 an hour to sit in our living room and call us if he cries. But we can't afford to do that as often as we would like to go out. It just didn't seem frugal, so I nixed that idea.

The other idea is to talk John into staying home while I went. And he would do it, too, in part because he owes me -- he goes to a debate every other week or so, whereas I never go. And he wouldn't complain about it because he's a swell guy. But like I said, the man lives and breathes debate club. He's all about it. He's involved in every single activity or event they do. So if I made him stay home for something like this, I'd basically just wallow in guilt the whole time. I don't feel I can rob him of his hobby -- especially when I have other things I enjoy that aren't in the evenings, even if they're not as often as I'd like.

And either of these options has the unfortunate downside of being away from Marko. And the fact is, I don't actually like doing that. Even if he's asleep. I just have more fun when he's with me. The older he gets, the more entertaining he is. I prefer events where we are both welcome. The thing is, there aren't many events out there like that.

I guess that's the real beef I have: why do we segregate people into adults and children, men and women, married and unmarried, students and graduates? Why can't we have parties that are for everyone? What about the good old days in the country where they would have barn raisings or dances and everyone came, young and old? The kids would play together, the adults would talk, and I could have everything I want at once.

But that isn't really practical, not when you want to organize social groupings based on certain things, arranged in a certain way. For whatever reason, the debate society likes to wear black tie and have hour-long, boring ceremonies. It's just not going to be kid-friendly. I often feel that everything should be kid-friendly because we're Catholic and we're supposed to support families. But, come on. It's mostly college students. They're not anti-child, children just aren't on their radar at all.

So I'm not angry at anyone, except maybe a teeny bit at myself for even trying. I should have known it wouldn't work. But I am just a little bit bitter. I got my hopes up for an evening that would prove to me I can be a mother and participate in intellectual stuff, social stuff, things I enjoy. And instead, I got an evening that proves to me that I can't.

Well, there's always the internet, thank goodness. I've gotten in something like six internet debates this week, and I've also been researching Catholic teaching on gender roles (male headship, mutual submission, complementarianism, egalitarianism ... the googling never ends). It's not like my intellectual life is dead. I just feel a little isolated sometimes, especially with the cold weather keeping me indoors, and I wanted to put on a nice dress and talk to people to whom I'm not related. That kind of opportunity doesn't arise every day, or even every weekend, so I wanted to leap on it. So, comfort myself as I may, I'm still just a wee bit disappointed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I'm going to do differently

Second children are like do-overs, right? You do everything wrong on the first kid, and then you try to get it right on the second. (Only to find, most likely, that the second kid is so completely different that nothing you learned on the first kid is any good.) I'm hoping that by the tenth kid, I know what I'm doing.

Here's a short list of a few things I want to do differently this time around:

1. Home birth. I'm going to have a home birth, and it's going to be perfect, of course. (I am practicing thinking only positive things about it, in the hopes of at least not being scared. If I thought it was going to be like Marko's birth, I'd be dreading it.) Home birth means a lot of things are automatically different. I will not be waaaaay out of my element. I won't be confined to bed. I won't have my water artificially broken. I will be able to eat and drink if I want to. I will be able to get in the bath or shower if I want to. I won't have any monitors (except for a friendly midwife with a stethoscope). I will not have to yell at the doctor not to do an episiotomy. I won't get any internal exams that I didn't ask for. And as for my greatest dread, having my baby taken away at birth -- the midwives just laughed when I asked them. "We don't cut the cord for at least half an hour," they said, "so it would be hard for us to take your baby away. Besides, where would we take him?"

2. Breastfeeding's going to go so much better. I mean, it can hardly fail to, seeing as I now know what I'm doing. And since I'll have the baby right away, we'll be able to try to nurse right away. Odds are very good that the baby will be nursing within an hour of birth. If not -- this time I have a lot more knowledge and heaps of support. I hope to nurse this one longer, as long as I'm not pregnant.

3. I'm not going to have my in-laws over right away, but instead awhile later. That way I can have some time to bond with my new baby. When they do come -- in fact, when anyone visits -- I won't be shy about nursing my own baby in my own house. I can't believe I felt myself banished to the bedroom to nurse when Marko was a week old. I now know that none of our guests would have minded if I'd stayed in the living room, and I would have been a heck of a lot more comfortable and less lonely.

4. I'm going to teach that baby to nurse lying down right away, so I can actually get some rest. (I did try with Marko, but we had too many issues.) And I don't think I'll fuss around with a bassinet -- I want to cosleep from day one. I'll set up the sidecar crib and have the baby right there for nighttime nursing. The short period of time when I coslept with Marko -- even though he wouldn't nurse lying down, and even though he didn't sleep as well next to me because he wasn't used to it -- was the time in his life I've gotten the most sleep. And now that I know that starting your kid off in his own bed does not make him a good sleeper, I am not going to bother. I sacrificed so much sleep when he was a newborn so that I could give him good sleep habits and reap the rewards later, and here he is still waking at night.

5. Speaking of sleep habits, I'm going to ignore what everyone told me and just nurse that kid to sleep. Every kid has a sleep association. Nursing is one that is available anytime, anywhere, and in any position. Marko's is motion. Turns out that's not half as easy as nursing ... and the bigger he gets, the less easy it is. Plus, you always have to shift him into bed once he's asleep. When you nurse to sleep, you can do it lying down and then roll away -- so there's not this drastic shift when they realize they're not in the rocking chair anymore. (Of course, they might still be mad when they wake and you're not there anymore ... but it's a smaller difference than being in a completely different place that isn't moving.) And as for putting a baby down awake in his crib? I might give it a shot, but I'm not sold on the idea. It really never worked for Marko, and I did try. Besides, then they have to have their crib. It was nice to be able to travel with Marko and have him still fall asleep just fine.

6. I'm going to babywear a lot more. This isn't because of any deep philosophical reason -- I just realize I'm going to have to be up and moving a lot more, and I may as well make the baby happy at the same time. When Marko was tiny, I was usually sitting down and didn't have anything particular to do while wearing him. And babies hate being worn when you're sitting still. He loved being in the wrap at work, though. This one is just bound to get a lot more babywearing time ... and who knows, maybe it will help him or her be more relaxed.

7. I'm going to be very aware of my diet so I can nip any food sensitivities in the bud right away. I might try going gluten-free, even, because I hear if mom is gluten-sensitive, it can cause fussiness in the baby if she eats gluten. And lately gluten has been giving me awful gas, except when it's in sourdough. (And a little even then.) It might be better just not to chance it. Not sure on that one. In any event, I'll probably keep a food diary and see if I can track down anything that seems to cause fussiness.

8. I really want to start elimination communication from day one, or at least from month one. I find it much easier than diapers, and it's really fun to reach that level of communication with a baby.

Other than that, I think I'll do things about the same! Marko and I have always had a very good rapport, and I'd like to develop the same with this baby, figuring out what his or her signals mean and responding right away. I also hope to take just as many pictures (if I can only get my camera fixed!) and dote on this one just as much. I know now what I didn't then -- that the tiny baby stage passes in about four seconds and I'd better soak it in while it lasts. (And if it's awful, that too will pass fast.)

Do you think I'm expecting too much? Did you parent each child a little differently?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Turns out we're unschooling already


The other day, I had the car. That's always exciting. Marko was crabby and bored and needed the exact right amount of sleep at the exact perfect time, and I decided a bit of driving around would be the cure. Of course I couldn't tell him that. So I told him we were going to the hardware store.

He has no idea what a hardware store is, but he was all over that idea. So we drove in the direction of the hardware store, he fell asleep, we dozed awhile in the Lowe's parking lot, and when he woke up we went inside. I'd guess we spent about 45 minutes in there, and we came out with one package of seed pots.

When I told John about our adventure, it went like this: "So first I wanted to look at something to stake my tomatoes with, and so we looked at 2x4's and fence posts. Then Marko wanted to look at the plumbing supplies. Then we went to the show kitchens and looked at those. Then I wanted to look at paint chips, and Marko told me what all the colors were. Then I decided to get the seed pots after all, so we counted them up and I told him what they were for."

"I see," he said. "So you're starting that unschooling thing already."

"No, we're just ... that's just how I shop ... I mean, that's what you do with toddlers ..."

Huh. I guess we kind of are unschooling.

It was the same sort of thing today. I took my teeny-tiny herb seedlings out of the laundry room to get some morning sun in the kitchen. The only sun spot was on the floor, so I set them there. Marko zoomed over. "Dirt! Dirt in containers!"

"Yes, here are the containers that we filled with dirt awhile ago. Remember how we put the seeds in? Now they're little plants."

"Little plants." He bent over them, touched them respectfully with a fingertip, smelled them.

"This one's cilantro. This one's basil. This one's oregano. That one's thyme."

"That one's thyme." He poked the containers. "One, two, four, five."

"That's a great idea, let's count them! One, two, three, four. Four plants."

He pointed to the pictures on the containers. "Cow. Cow. Cows on the containers. Sour cream containers."

"That's right, those containers used to have sour cream in them! Now they have dirt and plants in them."

"Plants in them."

"I put them out in the sunshine so they would grow."

"Sunshine?"

"Yes, see the sun out the window? It's shining on the plants. That helps them grow. Look at the sun shining on your hand."

"Sun shining on the plants."

How exactly is this not unschooling?

The way you normally teach a toddler is unschooling. You just do what you were going to do anyway, and explain it to the child. Or the child does what he wants to do, and you help him do it. Or he asks you questions, and you answer them. It's not complicated.

Marko knows about things that are important to him. He knows a lot about farm animals, because he's way into them. (I think my own fascination is contagious.) He can identify onion grass, purslane, clover, and mint in the yard. He can count (I never taught him that consciously, but I do count in front of him of course) and say his alphabet (the alphabet song is one of his favorites, though not one of mine). He can take his clothes off, but not put them on. He recently discovered how to put blocks and train tracks together. He knows large portions of his favorite books.

None of these have been "learning goals" of mine. This year, my learning goals have been "learn to use the potty" and "get better at talking." Everything else has been him exploring and asking questions. I don't read to him all day, though he would like it if I did. I probably read to him five or six times a day, when he begs me to. I sing to him and talk to him a lot. But mostly, he plays by himself. I just don't believe in trying to manage his playtime. He seems to have it covered. On crankier days, I try to plan a few things, like doing the dishes while he sits on the counter with his feet on the sink (gleefully turning the water off and on for me) or digging in the garden while he looks for bugs. But if he's happy, I see no reason to do a thing. He just potters around learning stuff and discovering things.

I'm sure, as Marko grows older, we'll do more, have more structure, plan more activities. But for now, this is just about right.
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